Working as a physician, or medical doctor, is a very rewarding career both financially and intrinsically. However, becoming a doctor requires many years of hard work including applying, studying, testing, writing, researching, practicing, and training. Therefore, it is best to start preparing as soon as possible, preferably in high school, if possible, for optimum success in your quest to become a doctor of medicine.
Time Required: About 11-15 Years, After Graduating from High School
- Graduate from High School.
Graduate from high school with your best grades possible. The higher your GPA, and the more you participate and excel in activities, the better your chances will be of getting accepted into the colleges of your choice. If you can take advanced classes, particularly in science or math, this will help you as well.
- Obtain a Bachelor's Degree. (Required Time: About 4 Years)
Obtain a bachelor's degree from a university. You do not have to major in biology or pre-med, but if you major in a related science or math subject, you will be more well-prepared for the MCAT (Medical College Admissions Test).
- Take and pass the MCAT. (Medical College Admissions Test).
Scores required for acceptance vary according to the supply and demand of medical students applying, how you rank amongst the field of applicants, and the number of slots available in the medical school for which you are applying. The more popular or prestigious the medical school is, the higher the MCAT scores you will have to obtain to get accepted.
- Graduate from Medical School. (Required Time: About 4 Years)
You can choose from a variety of accredited medical schools, but you must obtain a medical degree such as an M.D. (allopathic medical degree) or D.O. (doctorate of osteopathic medicine) from an American medical school, or equivalent degree from an international medical school.
- Complete a medical residency training program. (Required Time: 3-5 Years, depending on specialty)
The length of the medical residency training program you must complete varies according to the medical specialty in which you are training. Residency programs are a minimum of three years for primary care and some medical specialties.
- Pass the USMLE. (Required Time: 3-6 days, plus study time)
The USMLE is a three-part exam required to obtain a medical license in the U.S. Each part of the exam takes 1-2 days to complete.
- Complete Fellowship Training.(Required Time: 0-3 Years, varies per specialty)
Not all medical doctors must do fellowship training. Certain medical specialties require fellowship training, such as cardiology and gastroenterology, which are actually sub-specialties of internal medicine. Some fellowships are optional, such as certain types of surgical training. A fellowship training program may be as short as 6 months or up to 3 years in length.
- Get a State Medical License. (Required Time: Several hours to complete application and gather documentation, plus turn-around/wait time of 3-9 months)
In addition to your US medical license, you must also have a state medical license in the state where you plan to practice. After completing the application and paying the fee, the turn-around time can be anywhere from three months to nine months, depending on the state, and depending on any issues that may arise during processing such as incomplete records, or background issues.
- Pass the Medical Board Exam for Your Specialty. (Required Time: About 2 Days, plus study time)
The American Board of Medical Specialties certifies physicians in their respective specialty. Board certification used to be an option, but most employers (hospitals, particularly) are now requiring board-certification. The board certification process consists of a written exam and an oral exam. Board certification exams are usually only given once or twice per year, so most physicians take the test in the late summer or fall after completing residency or fellowship training in June or July.
- Local Credentialing and Hospital Privileges (Required Time: A Few Hours)
This step is required to allow a medical doctor to admit patients to a hospital, or treat patients in a hospital, including rounding on them and operating on them, depending on the medical specialty. Obtaining privileges at a hospital usually entails filling out an application packet, and sometimes a personal interview with the hospital board members or hospital administration is also required.
- Obtain Provider Numbers and DEA Numbers (Required Time: A Few Hours)
Your employer can usually help with this step. Provider numbers are required from insurance companies such as Medicare, or Blue Cross/Blue Shield in order to be reimbursed for medical services rendered. A DEA number is required in order to prescribe drugs such as narcotics.
- If you are a graduate of an international medical school, you must also complete the ECFMG process before starting your residency training program (Step 5 above)
- If you plan ahead, there are many ways to finance your medical school education or save money on tuition costs you do pay.
- Before you invest all of the time and money required to become a physician, be sure that it is the best health career for you. If you do not have the time or money to invest to become a medical doctor, you may want to consider another top medical career.
What You Need
- A strong work ethic.
- A passion and drive for medicine, and for helping and caring for others.
- A lot of money, or loans, or scholarships.
- Health and well-being.
- A great memory or ability to memorize medical terminology, symptoms, medications
- Strength in math and science.
- Excellent communication skills.
- A lot of time to study, memorize, and practice.
- A clean background.